by Cole Lauterbach
Arizona’s high court unanimously ruled that the Republican-controlled Legislature violated a part of the state constitution when it used a budget bill to implement a mask mandate ban.
The state Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday over the Legislature’s mask mandate ban and whether it and other provisions in the bills should be allowed to stand. The challenge isn’t to the ban but rather how lawmakers did so.
Education advocates sued days after lawmakers passed their budget bills.
A lower court ruled Sept. 27 five of the budget implementation laws signed by Gov. Doug Ducey ran afoul of the state’s constitutional limitation that legislation pertains to one subject that’s adequately represented in the title. The judge didn’t speak to the legality of the mandate bans but rather how they were included in budget bills. The practice is commonly known as “logrolling.”
In just over an hour, justices released their opinion, upholding a lower court’s ruling.
The justices took a skeptical tone to the state’s argument that a member of the public would reasonably understand that a vague bill description should mean it’s assumed to include any given issue, as Arizona Soliciting Attorney Beau Roysden contended.
“The state has a plenary power to pass individual legislation that doesn’t violate the title requirement or the single subject rule,” Chief Justice Robert Brutinel said.
Roysden warned that allowing a challenge to any legislation that doesn’t expressly address every aspect of the bill’s text is a recipe for judicial overreach that could tie up countless bills, even ones already signed into law before a court ruling.
“If the court wants to give the Legislature further instruction and guidance on how to further feed bills and reconciliation bills, it must do so prospectively. Otherwise we are going to unleash chaos,” Roysden said.
Representing the Arizona School Boards Association and others, attorney Roopali Desai said lawmakers knowingly inserted a nonbudget item into a budget bill.
“If my school district put out a notice that they were going to adopt a budget or discuss budget issues and then, at that district board meeting, they adopted a mask mandate or the opposite that they decided they would not adopt a mask mandate, I as a parent would have no idea that what the school district was going to be discussing at that board meeting had anything to do with a substantive policy unrelated to the budget that the school district is adopting,” she said.
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Cole Lauterbach is a regional editor for The Center Square covering Arizona, California, and Nevada. For more than a decade, Cole has produced award-winning content on both radio and television.
Photo “Phoenix Suns Masks” by Maricopa County School Superintendent’s Office.